With school shootings becoming increasingly more common, it’s important to prioritize youth mental health and talk openly with your child to help them address questions, stress and emotions stemming from these traumatic events.
When school shootings are in the news, it can be hard to figure out how to talk about them with your child. But ignoring these incidents is not an option, especially as school shootings have become increasingly more common.
School shootings can have a deep impact on the mental health of youth – both those who are directly exposed to the incidents, and those who experience it through the news, social media, online video and through school shooter drills, now common at many schools. The latter is known as secondary trauma, when young people who have exposure to images or stories about a traumatic event experience heightened stress, irritability and sadness.
While we sometimes have the impulse to avoid talking about topics that are difficult or sensitive, doing so leaves your child to process these complex issues on their own and opens them up to confusion and false narratives.
Intentional, supportive dialogue with young people can help them navigate the many emotions and worries these news stories stir up. Creating a safe space for reflection and questions will empower your child to build critical life skills related to problem-solving, emotion management, resilience and self-control.
Here are some ways to initiate dialogue with your child about school shootings:
Show your kid or teen that you are aware of the incident and that you understand it may be on their mind as well, and that you’re here to support them. Don’t assume they’ll come to you to strike up conversation. Instead, start an open dialogue by asking them direct questions such as:
It is important for kids and teens to know that you are here to support them and that they view you as a resource. Make sure to show willingness to talk and answer questions about the incident by saying things such as:
Ask your child to share their feelings about the incident and respond with empathy. It is also important to validate their feelings, and not tell them how they should feel or assume you know how they feel. Here are some helpful prompts:
Acknowledge and validate their responses and try not to answer with throwaway statements such as “You are going to be fine” or “I know how you feel,” which can discount their feelings and shut down the conversation. By listening to their feelings and giving them space, you can create a safe environment for your child to bring up their emotions, knowing you’ll always hear them out, no matter what.
If you find yourself or someone you know in need of additional support during this difficult time contact: